Dr. Bryan Smith
Historically, young men have left their parents’ home around the age of twenty, married, established themselves in a career, and raised a family. Now, however, many never mature beyond their teen years. Some psychologists call this the Peter Pan Syndrome because these young men hold on to their childhood and refuse to conform to the demands of adulthood (as Peter Pan did in J. M. Barrie’s story).
How many live in their parents’ basements, addicted to video games and social media? More than you may think. In 2014, 35 percent of men ages 18 to 34 were living with their parents. That same year, only 28 percent were married or living with a partner.1 Of course, not all living with their parents were Peter Pans. Some were going to college or transitioning from one career to another. Nevertheless, the overall picture is grim. These days, a man in his twenties or early thirties is more likely to be living with his mom than his wife.
Male passivity has become a huge problem in our society. Men living in their parents’ basements are extreme examples of this, but passivity is a problem for all men. Every man, at times, would rather be passive than take action. For that reason, every man—especially every young man—needs to understand what causes male passivity and what it takes to overcome it.
Causes of Male Passivity
Why are so many men—even many Christian men—failing to take their place in God’s world? There are many reasons. I believe the following three are especially significant.
First, many young men have unrealistic expectations about the future. These expectations often come from the secular self-esteem talk of our culture: “You can be anything you want to be!” and “You deserve the very best!” Many young men today expect to be rich, successful, and completely fulfilled in every part of their lives. But when they look at the paths before them leading to adulthood, they don’t see one that meets their expectations. So, they sit and wait.
Second, many young men are afraid of criticism and failure. Because of the influence of feminism, people, in general, are suspicious of strong, assertive men. So, for a man to shake off passivity, he will have to be willing to face criticism. He will have to accept the fact that his motives may be judged, and he may be charged with chauvinism. The possibility of such criticism is too much for some young men. Another problem is the fear of failure. To make a decision is to risk failure. What if the car I’m thinking about buying turns out to be a lemon? What if college is too hard? What if that hard conversation doesn’t go well? Such men do not realize that while every decision risks failure, passivity makes it certain. Doing nothing is the ultimate failure.
Third, many young men are addicted to trivial things. Our culture encourages young men to play. YouTube, television, and video games—boys today move toward manhood filling their days with fun. Of course, there is nothing wrong with fun—just like there’s nothing wrong with having a Twinkie as a snack. But balance is essential. Twinkies are to nutrition what video games are to actual work. They are simplified (and enjoyable) imitations of the real thing. It’s fine to enjoy them from time to time. But if a young man experiences them out of proper balance—if they keep him from fulfilling his obligations at home, school, or church—he will not develop a taste for the real thing. Too much play will lead him to expect a life of fun, not a life of God-honoring work—not a life filled with the challenges (and eternal rewards) of being what God made him to be.
Becoming a Man of Action
To grow into godly manhood, young men today need to repent daily of their tendency toward passivity and seek to become the men of action God made them to be. Instead of avoiding decisions, they must learn to act. Of course, they need to make their decisions wisely. They can do that by developing the habit of following four steps. I have adapted these from Kevin DeYoung’s book Just Do Something.2
1. Read and meditate on Scripture. The Bible is God’s Word, given to guide us in the way of wisdom (Ps. 119:24). If a man reads the Bible daily, God will use His Word to direct his decision-making. The Bible will not tell him what college to apply to, what job to take, or what woman to marry. It will, however, teach him what a righteous and holy life looks like. And if he reads Scripture in an attitude of submission and reverence for God, it will—over time—transform his character. He will become a godly man. Godly men tend to make godly decisions.
2. Seek wise counsel. The book of Proverbs repeatedly exhorts young men to seek advice from wise, experienced people (Prov. 1:5; 15:22). If we are eager to seek wise counsel, we will become wise (Prov. 19:20). It is especially important for a young man to seek counsel from people who know him well. When an opportunity for ministry (or for work or more education) comes along, it is easy for a man to be fooled regarding his own abilities—even if he is a godly person. He may be timid and, therefore, unaware of his ability to succeed in the opportunity. Or he may be overconfident: He may think he possesses talents he doesn’t actually have. But someone who knows him well can give him wise, honest advice. By the way, the people who know you best are usually your parents. Don’t hesitate to seek counsel from them.
3. Pray for God’s help. Godly men pray about their decisions. They don’t pray that God would write answers in the sky. They instead pray for God to help them understand His Word (Ps. 119:34), that He would direct them to the portions of Scripture that most apply to the decision at hand. They also pray for wisdom (James 1:5). They pray that they would not be misled by wrong information or fail to notice important details. So, for example, if they are buying a used car, they pray that God will give them the wisdom to see the car for what it is—nothing more, nothing less. Finally, they pray for good motives (Ps. 139:23-24), the kind of motives that characterize a godly father. They pray that they will be delivered from selfishness and pride. They also pray that they will act out of love, love for God and love for others.
4. Act—and don’t look back! The young man who is steeped in Scripture, who has sought wise counsel, who has prayed for wisdom and good motives—that man should not be afraid to take action. In fact, he should make the decisions he wants to make and make them with confidence. He should buy the car, take the job, or get involved in the ministry of his choice. If he has truly prepared himself for godliness, his choice will be godly, and he can expect God’s blessing. But once the decision is made, he must stick with it to the end. A real man understands that if God leads him into a decision, He will also lead him through it. When the going gets tough (and it will), the godly man prays for grace to be tougher than his opposition so he can keep his promises.
A young man like that is ready to be a man.
Dr. Bryan Smith has worked in Christian education for nearly thirty years. He has been a classroom teacher as well as a textbook author. Currently, he serves at BJU Press as the Senior Manager for Biblical Worldview Formation. He and his wife, Becky, have six children.
1. Richard Fry, “For First Time in Modern Era, Living With Parents Edges Out Other Living Arrangements for 18- to 34-Year-Olds,” Pew Research Center, May 24, 2016, https://pewresearch.org/social-trends/2016/05/24/for-first-time-in-modern-era-living-with-parents-edges-out-other-living-arrangements-for-18-to-34-year-olds.
2. Kevin DeYoung, Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009), 99-104.